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Dems Closing Gap in Absentee Voting

October 31st, 2012 by flanews

Republicans have traditionally dominated absentee voting, but this election season Democrats are closing the gap. As Whitney Ray tells us, the deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail has just passed, but it’s not too late to vote absentee, in-person.

For more than 20 years Ion Sancho has supervised elections in Florida, but this is the first election where in-person absentee voting has taken off. Hundreds have visited Sancho’s Tallahassee office this October, requesting a ballot, filling it out and turning it in on the spot.

“Over 700 Leon County voters have already done that,” said

Wednesday was the deadline to request a ballot by mail. Depending on the post office, Friday maybe the last day to return a ballot by mail, so it’s received by 7:00PM Election Day. Division of Elections Spokesman Chris Cate wants people to take caution to make sure their vote is counted.

“You can’t just put it in the mail on Election Day and assume that that’s going to count. It actually has to be received by the supervisor’s office on Election Day,” said Cate.

Historically, about two percent of absentee ballots are thrown out, because they’re turned in late, sent to the wrong address or filled out incorrectly.

The most common mistake is right here. Voters fill out their ballot but they forget to sign the outside of the envelope. If this line is left blank, the vote isn’t counted.

But so far more than 1.5 million voters have filled out their ballots and forms correctly. At this same point in 2008, just 1.2 million Floridians had voted absentee.

In 2008, Republicans held a 15 percent edge in absentee voting. The gap has narrowed to four percent this election cycle. The news worries GOP strategists.

We obtained this letter Tuesday from a Republican advisor saying quote “They are cleaning our clocks.”

And here is how voting breaks down so far. One million, 88-thousand Republicans have voted either early or absentee. 1.1 million Democrats. Third party or voters registered with no party affiliation have cast 400-thousand votes. Total 2.6 million Floridians have already voted.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Preemption 2013

October 30th, 2012 by flanews

In Florida there is a 15 percent cap on annual tuition increases, but that could change for two of Florida’s top universities. As Whitney Ray tells us, a plan to lift the tuition cap for UF and FSU could be back before lawmakers next legislative session.

To improve the quality of education in Florida, tuition at two Florida universities may have to go up, way up. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Higher Education Reform is drafting a plan to give UF and FSU control over tuition increases.

FSU President Dr. Eric Barron says having more control over tuition will help the school attract top professors and researchers.

“I think it’s not a matter of tuition. It’s a matter of do you have the appropriate amount of revenues to support students,” said Barron.

Barron made the same argument last year, but it wasn’t enough to win over the governor.

The bill was just a signature away from becoming law last year, but Governor Rick Scott vetoed it. Scott wants to keep costs down, a messages echoed by students at FSU.

“I don’t think any school should have that type of authority; for education to get harder and harder to pay for while the economy is where it is right now, that’s not fair to students,” said Taylor Crosby, a freshman at FSU.

The plan has bi-partisan support. House Democrat Alan Williams voted for the legislation, Scott later vetoed. Williams says lifting the tuition cap is good as long students see an increase in financial aid and scholarships.

“We need to make sure that we increase the number of scholarships given to those need based students to make sure that we are provide access to some of these premier institutions here in our state,” said Williams.

The recommendations are still being drafted by the Blue Ribbon Task Force. They will be voted on next Tuesday.

Task Force members may also call for a performance study to support lifting the cap. They want to know how UF and FSU graduates are performing in the workforce. The study is seen as a way to change the governor’s mind on giving the universities tuition authority.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Degree Based Tuition

October 29th, 2012 by flanews

Education experts are exploring a plan that could lower the price of college for some students and raise it for others. Under the plan universities would be given more state money for degrees where their graduates excel and as Whitney Ray tells us, that money could then be used to lower tuition to attract they best students in those fields.

Right now students pay tuition based on the university they attend, not the degree they pursue, but that could change.

Dr. Dale Brill, heads Florida’s Blue Ribbon Task Form on Education. Brill says the state needs to rethink its higher education strategy. The task force is exploring a plan to lower tuition for certain degrees at certain schools.

“At some institutions it will be less expensive to pursue some degrees than others,” said Brill.

Under the plan FSU could have the cheapest English degree in the state because FSU has one of the best writing programs in the nation… and FAMU has one of the best pharmacy schools in the nation, which means students who study medicine here could get a break in their tuition. UF could charge less for journalism and the University of West Florida might give students who major in economic development a break. Brill says the plan is play to each school’s strength.

“Let’s get specificity in all the institutions. What is it they want to excel at? Let’s tie it to funding that lets them excel at it,” said Brill.

Schools would be given more state dollars in fields where they’re graduates excel. They could then use that money lower tuition for students in those majors.

Ch-Rae Pitts studies Chemistry at FAMU, and could possible benefit from the plan, but she doesn’t like the message it sends.

Chey-Ray: It should be a flat rate, kind of how it is now.
Reporter: Even if it would lower your tuition?
Chey Ray: Even if it would lower my tuition.

While the plan could lower the cost of some degrees, it could raise the price of others. Part of the plan is to push more students into math and science majors.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force will finalize its recommendations next Tuesday. The recommendations will then be given to the governor and state lawmakers and could end up in legislation during the 2013 legislative session.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

PDMP Funding Running Out

October 26th, 2012 by flanews

While the state is gaining ground in its war on prescription drug abuse a new crisis is surfacing. Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Database which is being credited with lowering the number of pill overdoses is running out of money and as Whitney Ray tells us, without a change in state law it may have to be shutdown.

A weapon in the war on pills, Florida’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Database has helped lower the number of Oxycodone overdoses by 17 percent.

“We’re working as a team to stop this and to stop the embarrassment of being known as the Oxy-Express,” said Bondi.

Overall prescription drug deaths fell by six percent according to 2011 statistics released this week. The stats come one year after the database was launched.

“There have been more than 55 million narcotic prescriptions that have been uploaded into the database,” said Dr. John Armstrong, Florida’s Surgeon General.

Pharmacists are required to update the database every time they sell painkillers. Doctors can then check the database before writing a prescription to make sure their patient isn’t buying more medicine than they need.

But the database could need help from state lawmakers. It’s running out of money and there’s a debate over how to fund it next year.

The database is surviving on donations and a waning federal grant. Because of initial opposition from Governor Rick Scott, state funding for the database is banned.

“I don’t support the database. I believe it’s an invasion of privacy,” said Scott in February of 2011.

Now he’s changing his tune.

Reporter: Would you be amenable to changing the law to allow the state to contribute to it?
Scott: Absolutely.

It costs about half a million dollars a year to run the database. Scott and Florida’s Surgeon General are still hoping donations will come through to keep the system running, but if they can’t raise the money, state lawmakers may have to step in and save it.

There is enough money to run the database through the end of the fiscal year, which means the issue will likely be before state lawmakers this spring. Besides the funding debate, some lawmakers also have concerns about patient privacy.

Here’s what we’ve learned about that: In one year, doctors have accessed the database 1.2 million times, pharmacists 1.3 million and police officers have used the database 20-thousand times. So if you fill a pain pill prescription in Florida, quite a few people will know.

Posted in State News | 14 Comments »

Scott Cancels Events for Emergency Trip to see Mother

October 25th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott cancelled his scheduled events this afternoon to fly to Kansas City to be with his mother, Esther. She is battling an infection and is intensive care., Scott speaks often of his mother and may owe his election to a compelling television commercial in which she appeared during the 2010 campaign.

Esther Scott was at her son’s side the day he became Florida’s 45th Governor.

“I’m so proud of you. I love you.” she said moments after he took the oath of office.

Now he is at her side in a Kansas City hospital. Scott cancelled his schedule to fly to her bedside, tweeting a message seeking prayers for her before leaving.

The fact Scott even became the 45th Governor is due in part to this commercial that he spent millions airing.

“Rick was raised in public housing” his mother intoned as a picture of young Rick flashed on the screen. Until this spot, Democrats were gaining traction by hammering the former health care executive accusing him of fraud. Esther Scott changed the dynamic.

“He’s a good boy. He’ll get Florida back to work” she concluded in a friendly, yet confident manner that only a mom can have. Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry says the spot was important in the race. “Her commercial resonated with voters. And its easy to see why if you know her. I spent some time with her at the convention and prior to that. She’s sharp as a tack and just good with people, and cares about people. And she raised a great son, and she demonstrated that in the commercial” says Curry.

Since being elected, Scott speaks frequently of his mother…from this prayer service in May when he told the audience “She made me go to church a lot. She told me when I was in Methodist Youth Fellowship in seventh grade to quit singing. I still remember that, and I bring that up to her often.” the comment drew laughter.

She was on the Governor’s mind at a literary event in August when he said “My mom pushed me top read all the time. It paid off.” First Lady Ann Scott lost her Father in January and her mother early last month.


Posted in Elections, Politics, Rick Scott, State News | 4 Comments »

RPOF Chairman Target of Voter Intimidation

October 25th, 2012 by flanews

The head of the Republican Party of Florida ineligible to vote? That’s what a letter sent to RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry says. As Whitney Ray tells us, Curry is one of nearly a hundred Florida voters who’ve received a bogus letter telling them their citizenship status is in question and they may not be allowed to cast a ballot.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry receives a lot of political mail, but this letter caught his eye and his ire.

“Whoever did this, I don’t know how they look at themselves in the mirror,” said Curry.

The letter claims Curry’s citizenship status is in question and without an administrative hearing, he may not be eligible to vote. Curry received the letter Tuesday at his Jacksonville office, not his home address where he’s registered to vote.

“I’ve made personal contributions to candidates and used that address so, it doesn’t look like they’re using a voter file. It looks like they are using some other file,” said Curry.

Other GOP donors have also been targeted.

“The city council president in the City of Jacksonville got the same letter as well. Ambassador John Ruth who is the finance chair for the Romney camp, he lives in Jacksonville, he got the letter as well,” said Curry.

The letters began showing up over the weekend. Nearly 100 voters in 28 Florida counties have received the messages. They’re county specific and even include the proper name and email address of each county’s election supervisors

But the letters aren’t the only voter intimidation tactic being used in Florida. Some voters are receiving calls from people telling them they can cast their ballot over the phone.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner is telling voters to be on the lookout.

“Beware of any calls, any unusual contacts, letters or anything unusual in the process,” said Detzner.

Of course you can’t vote over the phone, or online and efforts to trick people to keep them away from casting a real ballot are illegal.

The letters are being mailed from Seattle, Washington. They mainly target Republican Super Voters, but some Democrats have received them. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI are investigating.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Rx Drug Deaths Recede, Overall Drug Deaths Rise

October 24th, 2012 by flanews

Deaths from prescription drug overdoses are declining following a state and federal crackdown on pill mills in Florida. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement drug death report for 2011 was released today. And while it shows a decrease in prescription drug overdoses, as Whitney Ray tells us, overall drug deaths are up.

Winning the battle against prescription drug abuse, Florida’s Attorney General and Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers released a report Wednesday showing a drop in prescription drug overdoses.

“Rarely do we see changes this radical,” said General Pam Bondi,

The 2011 FDLE drug death report shows a 17 percent decline in deaths caused by Oxycodone. Overall prescription drug deaths are down six percent.

“We put in place tough penalties. We strengthened the regulation oversight,” said Bondi.

While the state is winning the battle against prescription drug abuse, it may be losing the war. Overall drug deaths rose from 9,001 in 2010, to 9,135 in 2011. Even so, FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey still considers the decline in prescription drug deaths a victory for Florida.

“Florida was recognized as a supplier state for a large part of our country. That particular problem was addressed and I’d call it an unqualified success,” said Bailey.

With the decline in painkiller deaths, comes an increase in overdoses from cocaine and alcohol. A combined 1,200 people died from those drugs last year. But is the crackdown on pills to blame? FDLE hasn’t found a link.

“There’s speculation that it’s a supply and demand issue that some of the addicts, if you will, that we’ve blocked from Oxycodone have turned to these other drugs but we don’t know that,” said Bailey.

Before the report was released seven people a day were dying from prescription drug overdoses in Florida. While the overall percent has fallen, it hasn’t dropped enough to lower that statistic.

Here’s a quick look at other statistics in the state’s war on pill mills. Since May of 2011 Florida’s Drug Strike Force teams have made 33-hundred arrests, seized more than 700-thousand pills and 10 million dollars in cash. They’ve also closed 254 illegal pain clinics.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Voter Manipulation Targets Dems and Reps

October 23rd, 2012 by flanews

Voters in two dozen Florida counties have received letters telling them they’re not eligible to vote. The letters are printed on official looking letterhead and claim the recipient has been identified as a noncitizens. As Whitney Ray tells us, at first the letters seemed to be targeting Republican voters, now we’re learning they’re also popping up in the mailboxes of registered Democrats.

These letters are popping up in Florida mailboxes. They tell the recipient, you’re ineligible to vote. The letters capitalizes on the state’s efforts to remove non-citizens from the voting roles. They use the recipient’s legal name and claim they’re citizenship status is in question.

The letters have been sent to voters in about two dozen counties so far. They’re printed on official looking letterhead, specific to each county’s supervisor of elections.

Governor Rick Scott says the voter intimidation tactics are illegal and won’t be tolerated.

“Anytime anybody’s trying to prevent somebody from voting that’s a serious issue so in our state we have zero tolerance. We want everybody to vote,” said Scott.

FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey says investigators are carefully studying the letters.

“Executive Investigations who does all the elections type investigations are looking through those now,” said Bailey.

One clue, all of them were postmarked in the same city.

“They were mailed to a variety of county elections supervisors out of Seattle, Washington,” said Bailey.

The letters were showing up in the mailboxes of registered Republicans at first. Secretary of State Ken Detzner says now voters in both parties are receiving the messages.

“Initially we found that it is targeting Republicans, but there are Democrats in there so it’s a broad based effort to defraud Florida voters,” said Detzner.

More than 50 letters had been reported by our news deadline Tuesday. Anyone who receives one is being asked to call their supervisor of elections.

FDLE is working to seek out the source of the letters, but Commissioner Bailey says it’s not likely to happen in time to stop them before the General Election. The Florida Division of Elections has a voter fraud hotline set up for people who receive the messages. The number is 1-877-868-3737. There’s also a website http://election.dos.state.fl.us/rules/adopted-rules/pdf/dsde34.pdf.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Florida Prepaid up 11 Percent

October 22nd, 2012 by flanews

The price of a traditional Florida Prepaid College Plan is up 11 percent this year, to more than 53-thousand dollars. The increase seems high, but as Whitney Ray tells us, economists estimate by 2030 a four year degree in Florida could cost 140-thousand dollars.

College can be expensive, but for two year old Haley Steele it’s taken care of. Haley has a Florida Prepaid College Plan.

“Her grandparents actually bought the four year university plan in a lump sum for her, so it’s a huge load off knowing that her education is pretty much taken care of,” said Leah Steele, Haley’s Mother

By purchasing the plan early, Haley avoided an 11 percent jump in prices. A four year university plan purchased in 2011, cost 35-thousand dollars or if paid in installments about three hundred bucks a month. Today, the same plan can be bought for 53-thousand dollars or 331 dollars monthly.

But buying a plan today could mean saving 10s of thousands of dollars down the road. Economists at the Florida Prepaid College Board say by 2030, a four year degree in Florida could cost 140-thousand dollars.

A spokesperson for the board says the plans give families certainty in the face of skyrocketing tuition prices.

“The ability to sort of lock in a plan price today, your payments never go up. You’re insulated from future tuition and fee increase. Money back guarantee if you need it,” said Susan James.

Despite the promise, the number of people buying plans fell 10 percent last year, to just below 20-thousand. People are also steering away from the university plans and buying cheaper college plans.

“Twenty-two of 28 (state colleges) now are offering that baccalaureate degree, and you can buy the prepaid plan today for 18-thousand,” said James.

The four college plan has only been available for two years, but its already growing in popularity. In 2011, one in four prepaid plans sold in Florida was a state college plan.

Open enrollment began last week and runs through mid-January. There are four different plans. The University plan, the Two Plus Two plan which is two years at a state college and two more at a university. There’s a four year state college plan and finally the cheapest plan is the two year college plan.

University Plan $53,700
2+2 Plan $35,950
College Plan $18,150
Two Year College $ 8,300

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Republican Rick Scott Caught in GOP Spin

October 19th, 2012 by flanews

Florida’s unemployment rate in 8.6 percent down from 8.7 a month ago, according to labor statistics released today. The nation’s unemployment rate is also down, below eight percent for the first time in three years. So is the economy improving? As Whitney Ray tells us, it depends on which Republican you ask.

The Jobs Governor caught in the GOP spin. Top Republican Candidates are bashing the economy to gain votes, while Governor Rick Scott continues to boast about Florida’s falling unemployment rate.

“Our state is headed in the right direction. Highest drop in unemployment of any state in the country,” said Scott.

Scott was in damage control mode one day after fellow Republican Connie Mack delivered this blow to his Democratic opponent in the US Senate debate.

“There are people who are losing their homes, who are still losing their homes Senator. This economy is one that is not working,” said Mack in Wednesday’s Debate.

Incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson seems more in tune with Scott than his GOP cohort.

“For the last 31 straight months we’ve had private sector job growth. What we are seeing today is the increase in the housing market,” said Nelson.

“We’ve had over 150-thousand private sectors jobs created. The number of people on unemployment has dropped. Exports are up, home prices are up, home sales are up,” said Scott.

Scott was asked point blank about Mack’s take on Florida’s economy.

Gov. Rick Scott / R-Florida
Reporter: So was Connie Mack wrong?
Scott: I know the facts that I’m talking about.

The facts seem to point to a slightly improving economy. Since Scott took office, unemployment in Florida is down 2.4 percent. Nationwide unemployment is below eight percent for the first time in three years.

“I don’t know which Florida you are talking about,” Mack told Nelson on the debate stage.

But Republican candidates argue the economy isn’t improving fast enough so, until the General Election Scott will have to continue to put his spin on the GOP spin.

“We need a federal partner who’s done what we’ve done in Florida,” said Scott.

Political scientists say Republican Governors across the country are in similar situations. Most of them will run again in two years, so they have to find a way to champion their economic achievements without stepping on the toes of Mitt Romney or other Republican candidates who say the economy is in the tank and Democrats are to blame.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Former Felon Seeks Sheriff’s Job

October 18th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

For the second time this election season, a candidate has been forced from the race over sexual misconduct. This time it is the frontrunner for the Marion County Sheriffs job, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the departure of the mainstream candidate has opened the door for a less conventional candidate.

In 1976, Bernie DeCastro got life for armed robbery. After finding God he was paroled in 1984. 

For the last 25 years, DeCastro has run a halfway house, working to keep other offenders from going back to prison. “I’m a carpenter” says one inmate as De Castro responds “We’ll be able to find you something”.

Now he is running for the Sheriff of Marion County Florida, promising to do things differently if elected. “We are going to work with the men in the county jail who have not been convicted who are there for low-level, non-violent mostly substance abuse crimes is which is primarily what we have here and begin to work with them using alternative sanctions instead of just leaving them to rot in a county jail for six months so” says De Castro.

As a former felon, DeCastro didn’t have a snowball’s chance against the established candidates. But then a strange thing happened. Undersheriff Dan Kuhn was forced from the race when his mistress told of sex on duty.   The loser in the GOP primary has been named to take his place, but his name isn’t on the ballot.

As De Castro campaigned on the streets of Ocala he told one potential voter “I’m a strong supporter of the Constitution. I carry it with me everywhere I go”.

Moments later he was talking with another voter. “And what we do is to reduce recidivism by 15 percent, alright. We help people get jobs”.

If he wins, DeCastro could be the first sheriff to have gone to jail before being elected; instead of the other way around.

Fundraising is not in his favor. The established GOP candidate has raised about two hundred thousand dollars. De Castro has raised about thirty.

Posted in State News | 21 Comments »

Gov Speaks out on Race Based Standards, Sort of

October 18th, 2012 by flanews

We are hearing for the first time from Governor Rick Scott, on those new controversial education standards. The goals hold white students to a higher standard than black students. As Whitney Ray tells us, Scott won’t say if the Board of Education should keep its race based goals.

Talking to reporters Thursday Governor Rick Scott was asked seven times about controversial new learning goals set for students based on their race. Each question received a similar response.

Reporter: Do you want them to do away with the race based standards?

Scott: I want them to focus on how do we make sure every child is proficient.

The state Board of Education adopted the goals last week. The strategic plan calls for 90 percent of Asian students and 88 percent of white students to be reading at grade level by 2018. The bar is lower for Hispanic and black students.

The goals are only based on race for the first five years of the board’s plan. By 2022, the board wants ALL races performing at grade level in math and reading.

But that caveat doesn’t satisfy House Democrats, who say the different standards will cause division.

“It is demoralizing,” said Representative Alan Williams.

“We should not have disparate goals for all of our children,” said House Minority Leader Darryl Rouson.

Democrats are calling for a brand new plan, leaving race out of the equation. In a written statement released Tuesday Scott seemed to sympathize, but when I pushed for specifics, the governor wouldn’t provide any.

Reporter: They’ve made a five year strategic plan that’s really upset a lot of people, so at their next board meeting on November 6th do you think any words in that plan should be changed?

Scott: I think their plan should be 100 percent focused on making sure every child in this state is proficient.

If changes are made they would most likely be adopted at the board’s next meeting on November 6th. As of Thursday, no agenda for that meeting had been posted.

The board used a formula to set its goals, based on how different races are performing right now. In a statement released earlier this week the board defended those goals, saying the quickest way to close the achievement gap among different races is to address the issue head on.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Martin Family Demands Zimmerman’s Medical Records

October 18th, 2012 by flanews

Ben Crump, the attorney for Trayvon Martin’s family is asking the court for access to George Zimmerman’s medical records. C

rump claims Zimmerman was on three prescription drugs the night he shot and killed Martin. Crump’s request comes as Zimmerman’s attorney is asking the court for access to Martin’s Facebook profile and school records. Crump says the medical records are more important to the case than Martin’s Facebook posts and school history.

“At this time we are demanding the release of George Zimmerman’s medical records because they are far more relevant than Trayvon Martin’s middle school and high school records,” said Crump.

A hearing in the case is slated for tomorrow.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

FSU Senate Votes against Voter Purge/Election Law

October 18th, 2012 by flanews

The FSU Student Senate is condemning changes to Florida’s election laws and recent voter purge efforts.

Wednesday the student senate passed resolution 43 which says “We the students at the Florida State University find the voter suppression tactics employed by the State of Florida are completely unacceptable, and demand that the state halt any further efforts to purge the voter registry.” We asked Governor Rick Scott about the resolution. Scott pointed to an increase in absentee voting as evidence his policies aren’t suppressing votes.

“The proof is in the pudding. Look at what’s happened. If you take from 2008 to the primary this year, absentee votes or early voting was up 52 percent, a dramatic increase,” said Scott.

The student senators are calling on other student governments to adopt similar resolutions. As for the state’s efforts to remove illegally registered voters from the roles, they’ve been put on hold until after the election.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

2012 Disability Employment Awards

October 18th, 2012 by flanews

The state is honoring businesses that hire people with disabilities.

Today in Tallahassee, Governor Rick Scott thanked seven Florida businesses working to lower the unemployment rate for disabled Floridians. Among those honored were Universal Orlando Resort, Sirata Beach Resort and Conference Center in St. Petersburg, Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Miller’s Ale House in Daytona Beach, Mangrove Mike’s Café in Islamorada, Habitat for Humanity in Pasco County and Baptist Health South Florida in Miami. After the ceremony Governor Rick Scott told reporters everybody deserves an opportunity to work.

“Everybody wants a job so it’s nice to recognize these companies that are helping individuals with disabilities get a job, keep a job, helping them with their training,” said Scott.

By some estimates the unemployment rate among those with disabilities is as high as 70 percent. But US Labor statistics show the unemployment rate is around 16 percent, when only factoring in people with disabilities who are actively looking for a job.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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